COLUMBIA — Bright white and blue lights flash throughout the arena. The voice of an air traffic controller blasts from loudspeakers, queuing the 20,000 in attendance to start cheering. A video flashes the name Evan Bourne on the large video screen above the entrance ramp.
Fast-paced metal music starts playing while the fans continue to cheer, waiting for the arrival of Bourne, a World Wrestling Entertainment hero. WWE ring announcer Lilian Garcia makes the introduction as Bourne races to the top of the entrance ramp.
"And from St. Louis, Missouri, weighing in at 183 pounds ... Evan Bourne," Garcia shouts.
Bourne flashes a peace sign above his head, and the cheering grows louder. Bourne then heads down the ramp giving high fives to the fans sitting close to the action as he heads to the ring.
Bourne flashes more peace signs as he enters the ring then climbs the ropes to the top turnbuckle and acknowledges the fans once again.
"It's one of the biggest adrenaline rushes you can have," Bourne said by phone. "It's a really special feeling to go out and perform in front of the fans."
Matt Korklan, known as Evan Bourne in the ring, has been performing for the WWE since 2008.
Korklan has become accustomed to being in front of the cameras and multiple screaming fans, but he had to work his way into the WWE lineup. There were many stops along the way, including MU, before becoming a professional wrestler.
Korklan grew up in St. Louis and was often in front of his television watching some of his favorite professional wrestlers. At the age of 17, Korklan decided he wanted to follow his boyhood dream and obtained a wrestling license in St. Louis.
Korklan said he did not know if he could make a living at wrestling when he first started, so he decided to seek a marketing degree and enrolled at MU in 2001. Korklan chose MU because his parents were alumni.
While attending MU, Korklan had to balance his studies and work as a wrestler, which took him to venues throughout the country. He would go to classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, then spend the rest of his week driving across the country with his wrestling gear. Korklan would travel as far as New Jersey and Georgia to perform, trying to get back for classes on Thursdays before heading out of town again for weekend shows.
Korklan said he made $25 to $100 per show working as an independent wrestler. The crowds were sparse at best, even the most popular events drawing only about 100 people. Korklan said he would often spend more money traveling to these events than the shows would pay him.
"I did not have any money, and I had to have my mom make my gear for me," Korklan said. "I just wanted to get my name out there."
Korklan and his friend Steve Anzo, who lived in the same residence hall, often got together and talked wrestling. Anzo saw some of Korklan's performances in St. Louis and was amazed at Korklan's athletic ability. So Anzo came up with the idea of having a live wrestling show at the MU Rec Center.
"There is a reason why he is in the WWE," Anzo said. "He was really focused and has a passion for the business. He is very intense, athletic, and he is a great performer."
Korklan and Anzo's wrestling event raised money for Anzo's fraternity, Sigma Tau Gamma. The event was called Campus Clash where Korklan and other professional wrestlers from Missouri performed for more than 300 people.
In 2005, Korklan received a degree in marketing from MU and moved back to St. Louis where he eventually became the vice president of sales and marketing for a mailbox company. But he still had a passion for wrestling and continued to perform, signing with Wrestling Society X (a wrestling television show that lasted nine episodes on MTV) and Ring of Honor (a large independent wrestling company).
Korklan was touring independently in Japan when he received a call from the WWE offering a tryout. He started wrestling in the WWE's developmental program, then in 2008 he was called up to perform in "Extreme Championship Wrestling," one of three WWE television shows.
Now, he finds himself on "Monday Night Raw," WWE's main show, performing five times a week in front of a live audience.
"At first I was doing this as a hobby just for fun," Korklan said. "Now I make money doing what I love."
At 5 foot 9 and 183 pounds, Korklan is often dwarfed by larger opponents such as the "Big Show" and "Kane," who are both 7 feet tall and weigh more than 300 pounds. But Korklan stands out in other ways.
A move commonly known among wrestlers as the Shooting Star Press has been dubbed the Air Bourne after Korklan's wrestling moniker.
After knocking his opponent to the floor of the ring, Korklan climbs to the top turnbuckle and braces himself by spreading his arms like an eagle. He then jumps forward soaring through the air. At the peak of his jump, he flips backwards and lands stomach first on his opponent.
Other wrestlers have injured themselves performing the move. Korklan said the WWE had banned the move until he started performing. It was his signature move coming in, and the WWE decided to let him use it.
"They decided not to punish me for other peoples mistakes," Korklan said. "There's no pad there when you land, and no second chances — you got to hit it."
Korklan said WWE wrestler "Rey Mysterio" was an inspiration for him. Korklan grew up watching his matches and eventually realized his dream when he wrestled Mysterio at a WWE event.
"He was a guy I respected and I wanted to wrestle right away," Korklan said.
Korklan said he plans on wrestling for a long time, but said he plans on going back to school after his career is over.
Korklan will be performing on a live "Monday Night Raw" show August 17 in St. Louis.